Jeff Schmitz, Chief People Officer, Zebra Technologies.
While some business professionals lead very linear career paths, mine has led an unexpected course. I started as a software engineer and moved into product management and general management. Then, I became a chief marketing officer, and now I serve as chief people officer at Zebra Technologies. Instead of being a hindrance, I believe my degree in engineering served as the foundation for my career journey. From that background, I’ve adopted three key values: being hard-working, positive and curious.
These values apply to any job or industry, and as an HR leader, they can guide your approach to helping employees navigate their career journeys. These are the things that give you the ability to look past tradition and do things differently. To successfully embed these lessons into your HR functions and organization as a whole, you must focus on two things: inclusivity and growth.
Build A Strong, Inclusive Culture
A strong culture that values inclusivity is one where diverse ideas are shared, accepted and encouraged. This benefits everyone in the workplace, and it allows for open dialogues that foster an environment where people are seen, heard, valued and respected. At Zebra, we believe that courageous discussions help us become a more inclusive organization and are the core of the success of both individual employees and our company at large.
Part of improving inclusivity is finding ways to attract diverse talent. Everyone has a role in the search for talent, even employees. (In fact, internal data has shown us that the new hires who perform the best and stay with us the longest were recruited by our own employees.) It’s also important that those responsible for making hiring decisions are aware of potential biases. This is how you can make the best decisions, hire the best candidates and create fair opportunities to build successful careers.
Building a strong, inclusive culture also requires cultivating a sense of belonging. For example, Zebra supports nine employee resource groups (ERGs) that bring together people looking to empower, support and learn from each other. By implementing these groups, you can help promote collaboration and thoughtful, reflective dialogue. ERGs enrich the development of their members, and they help people at all levels understand the unique needs and experiences of your diverse employee population. They also provide opportunities to connect with other stakeholder groups, like your customers and the communities you serve, as they engage in their own journeys related to inclusion, diversity and philanthropy.
Focus On Growth And Development
As my story shows, a college degree may be a foundational element on which to build a career, but it isn’t the only launching point. According to a 2019 Gallup survey, about half of U.S. adults considered a college education to be “very important,” down from 70% of adults in 2013. This is why it’s become increasingly valuable for organizations to offer the right development programs so everyone, including employees from underrepresented groups, can have the best possible career experience.
As HR leaders, it’s important to help ensure our organizations attract and retain people from all educational and professional backgrounds by supporting employees’ ongoing development. From internships and externships to rotational and leadership development programs, you can help employees develop their skills and advance in their careers. But career advancement is a joint responsibility. Companies need to create growth and development opportunities for employees, and employees must actively participate in advancing their own skills and experiences.
This is where those three lessons from earlier—working hard, staying positive and being curious—come in. Encourage employees at your organizations as they progress through their career journeys to be curious about internal growth opportunities. For example, could they shadow a more established employee to learn how to support another area of the business? No matter what kind of development programs you provide, employees must be willing to put in extra effort to find new experiences, commit to asking for feedback and have a positive approach to implementing what they learn. With encouragement from their managers and your HR department, employees can grow and discover the roles and responsibilities they truly enjoy.
At the end of the day, the key to any career journey—no matter the educational or professional background—is all about building the right foundation and staying focused. This is how people continue to learn, grow and develop. Bringing this mindset into my HR approach, as well as a bit of humor, serves me well each day. I love what I do, and I appreciate the opportunities that contributed to my non-linear career. Now, I’m able to help others see the value of inclusivity and growth when building an even stronger workplace culture.
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